Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Anything But Theist FAQ

Why are you atheist?
I am not convinced there is any evidence that indicates the existence of gods. I also lack any belief in spirits, souls, an afterlife, prophecy, ghosts, zombies, vampires, faeries/pixies, witchcraft, the loch ness monster, big foot, UFO abductions, or L. Ron Hubbard (they made him up to scare Tom Cruise's kids).

What is your religious background?
I was raised Catholic, and my mother insisted I go through Confirmation. I agreed on condition that I would no longer be required to attend mass with my family, though I have sat through a few since (including a mass held in Rome).

Isn't Atheism a religion?
No, Atheism (with a big A) is not a religion, but it is a statement of faith ("I believe there are no gods"). However, atheism (with a little a) is not a statement of faith, merely a rejection of the God Theory. I am atheist, not Atheist. The difference between an atheist and an agnostic is that an agnostic is unsure whether to reject the God Theory. For more information on why I feel I can make this distinction, read this. For more information on why atheism is not a religion, see here and here.

Do you read/follow/worship at the altar of Dawkins/Harris/Hitchens?
I am aware of their work, but have never read a single book by any of these men (though I have read some excerpts and essays). I have never even read a book I would consider "atheist" in theme. George Carlin is one atheist with whom I identify. I do not hate or despise religion, I find it hilarious.

Have you considered religions outside of Christianity?
A great deal of my short adult life has been spent learning about religion and mythology. I am aware of the multitude of faiths available to humanity, both past and present, and I understand that all religions have something positive to offer. I am also aware that the "truths" which lure followers are dwarfed by the lies which hold them captive to ignorance upon accepting the whole religion. Moreover, the existence of so many different religions means one of three things:
1. They are all equally right [logically impossible]
2. They are all equally wrong [despite each claiming otherwise]
3. One is correct [which one?]

Don't you want to go to heaven and avoid hell?
Ahh, Pascal's Wager. I have a wager for you, called Ginx's Wager. I believe that nothing happens after we die. This is not a pleasant thought, and I prefer the idea of burning in hell forever. Therefore, even if I am wrong and am sent to hell, I will be pleasantly surprised to know I can continue to exist forever, even if it is in excruciating agony. However, no pain can truly have an effect forever, and I imagine it will be like getting into hot tub: bad at first, but eventually you'll get used to it, maybe even find it kind of pleasant (kind of like life in general). However, most theologians accept the notion that hell has nothing to do with fire, but is instead "the absence of God." In this case, hell will be no different than my earthly existence.

Then again, one must consider the posibility that I may get into heaven. Gandhi was not a Christian, though he was aware of Christianity. Despite rejecting Jesus' saving grace, many Christians believe a man of his moral caliber will go to heaven anyway. While I'm no Gandhi, I still have a non-zero chance of getting into heaven (according to some non-fundamentalist forms of Christian theology). And if Gandhi didn't get into heaven, I have no interest in going.

Let me know what hell is like.
That's not a question, but I appreciate your curious nature. For one thing, I'm not sure how I can inform you, unless I get to come back as a ghost to warn people. If I figure out how to do this, I will be happy to oblige your request.


  1. Here, here on the comment approval BS. Theist, atheist, anti-theist. It would seem you're taking the middle ground. Don't have to believe in anything, one way or the other. And, as you say, surely a loving God wouldn't deny a good person heaven on belief or non-belief alone, so why trouble yourself. Saves a hell of a lot of money too.

  2. "Moreover, the existence of so many different religions means one of three things:
    1. They are all equally right [logically impossible]
    2. They are all equally wrong [despite each claiming otherwise]
    3. One is correct [which one?]"

    What about the stain-glass/prism view of religion?
    1a. They all have differing amounts of truth - although no single one may have a monopoly on truth (logically possible).
    2. Some religions recognize that they may not have the entire perspective on ultimate truth - but one among many; however, religions can work together to find God and truth.
    3. They all have different elements of "correct." Here correct ought to be better defined. If correct means 100% right about everything - then maybe not. Lots of reasonable Christians are fine with admitting the Bible isn't 100% certain as a science or history book - but that it's a narrative of a people with an emerging and developing faith - and it's a shared tradition that we can learn and grow from.

    As a Buddhist - the Tibetan Buddhist perspective doesn't make much sense to me. Zen and Theravada make more sense - but I don't think that means Tibetan Buddhism is worthless. It's a different path for different people.... but as a Buddhist, I also recognize that speaking of the truth isn't the truth itself - and the path is not the goal itself.

    I am fine with saying the ancient Buddhist cosmological model is false - but the cosmological model can still be understood as allegorical and psychological and retain truth value.

  3. I'm aware of attempts to reconcile the problem of a world with thousands of religions, I just find them to be flimsy and naively optimistic.

    Regarding your points:

    1. I freely admitted that every religion relies on some part of its ideology as being useful/correct, though I am certainly not qualified to quantify every religion's utility. However, this benefit is always bundled with fallacy (no exceptions). Even science, which is not truly a religion, is often wrong. The difference is the rapidity with which science corrects itself and adopt radically new concepts(and will even ridicule mistakes), while religion clutches onto traditional ignorance with fervor, and only changes once a metaphorical re-adaptation can be synergized (therefore maintaining the appearance of having never been wrong).

    2. Most Westerners have to cope with one religious tradition: monotheism. The hallmark of this ideology is its uncompromising view and inability to accept its shortcomings, even in the face of blatant error. If you believe religions can (or ever do) work together, I think history has another outlook.

    3. Most "reasonable Christians" in America are not Christians at all, but secular Americans who label themselves "Christian" in order to keep up appearances. They often know nothing of the ideology with which they self-affiliate, and they recognize no hypocrisy in selectively believing parts of a book that claims to be the word of God. What's more, science and history books are by no means 100% correct, either. They are merely the best attempt of the editors at being accurate, though they are hopelessly littered with bias, both conscious and unconscious, which can only be teased out over time as new viewpoints are discovered and presented. Western religion lacks this process at its core (Biblical theology), though practices it often (non-Biblical theology, with which most American Christias are familiar with... like how "Chicken Soup for the Soul" was read more often during its popularity than the Bible was).

    I would have expected a similar answer from any Buddhist, as this is often the attitude of Westernized Buddhism. However, had you been born into a society where Buddhism was the majority opinion, I believe your experience with and view of Buddhism would be far less romanticized and liberal... but don't let that change your tolerant view.

  4. In regards to the Buddhist comment - I'll just put down that Tibetan Buddhism isn't my bag of tea....
    and without going on a long tangent about Weber what we have is the routinization of charisma at work in the institutionalization of religion (in this case Buddhism).

    You have a charismatic figure, Buddha (also see Jesus and Muhammad) - and eventually that charisma is institutionalized in a traditionalistic or rational-legal sort of way - and becomes "dead" until another charismatic figure comes along later (like the Reformers or what not).

    I agree with point 3.

    As for 2. Hinduism and Buddhism have always been more syncretistic.... Chan/Zen Buddhism for example is a blend of indigenous Taoism and Mahayana. Some Hindu sects look at the Buddha as an incarnation of Vishnu - and to be fair, some just considered him a heretic.

    As for the prism theory of religion.... it seems to me that people who intensively study comparative religion AND practice religion in their life often come to this view (Huston Smith is my foremost example). This could turn into an interesting discussion. I used to think prism-theory was stupid, but the more I study and practice religion.... the more open I am to it.

  5. I'll have a completely different perspective, because I think lifestyle choices should originate from personal experience and tastes, not borrowed ideologies.

    There's plenty of times religions borrow ideas from another, even in Christianity (especially regarding concepts discussed with little detail in the Bible, like angels, heaven, hell, etc). However, I think "syncretism" is the more accurate term, as you point out. "Work together" sounds like religions setting aside their differences and living peacefully... something that I don't believe happens in the presence of monotheism. I'm sure it is common in parts of India, as it was in European antiquity, but one can already see this breaking down in the presence of Muslims around disputed areas of Western India.

    Monotheists are very commonly iconoclatic (like atheists). They don't play well with other faiths, and yet their belief structure is probably an inevitable rung on the ladder of spiritual evolution. From ancestor and hero worship to deification in a polytheistic pantheon to monotheism to atheism. Just our luck, some jerk with charisma becomes the new wise elder or spiritual hero and we have to repeat it.

  6. I want to know why theists like Robin Meyers and some of the progressive-ish Jews aren't as iconoclastic as their counterparts.

    It would be interesting knowledge.

    I also wonder what makes the Hindu's and Buddhists more able to live peaceably together - while Hindu's and Muslim's have been warring forever....

    Then again, if I know my history correctly (and I could certainly be wrong), under Saladin, the Jews and Christians were tolerated under the dar-el Islam.

    Perhaps we should look at what factors contribute to religious tolerance and what contribute to religious intolerance - beyond the ideologies themselves. Saladin and the Taliban read the same book (okay, most of the Taliban are illiterate, so uh?) - but they came to really different conclusions.

    "Just our luck, some jerk with charisma becomes the new wise elder or spiritual hero and we have to repeat it."

    Not quite a spiritual hero, but we had the Father God - Marx, the Son - Lenin, and the Holy Spirit - Che Guevarra?

    So even in the absences of religion, people still like to "make religion" - like Communism in Russia....

    I've been duck hunting all morning so I'm tired and haven't slept. Sorry if I rambled.

    But Communism is as much an example of the routinization of charisma as Jesus or the Pope are.

  7. I can't assume that every single one of the over 2 billion Christians or the several billion monotheists will believe one particular way, but monotheism is, at its core, less capable of syncretism. At best, they can demote other people's gods to angels or saints, but more often they are demonized.

    Hinduism, being polytheistic, and Buddhism, being non-theistic, do not create friction. Polytheism is, at its root, accepting of the idea of multiple deities, and is prone to say, "Oh, your [major god] is just like our [major god]." The Greeks and Romans often tacked on these local names to the Greek or Roman god's name when building local temples. I would not be surprised if Hinduism has a similar relationship when making contact with different cultures. Buddhism does not deny the existence of the divine, it merely places little or no emphasis on them.

    Both monotheism and atheism are ideologically opposed to the acceptance of outside deities. This is why you may see similar activities among organized Atheists (such as in Communist nations) as one would among monotheists.

    Muslims have a particular affinity for the other monotheistic cultures. There is even a term for them, roughly translating to "People of the Book." Muslim law regarding food preperation even requires that a Muslim or "person of the book" perform all butchering, so Jews and Christians are essentially written into the Quran as having a place in Muslim culture. Muslims are inherently more peaceful towards the other monotheistic faiths, and tend to only attack when provoked. I believe this is even the case with Al Qaeda (the Taliban are nothing but an Afghani political party, akin to Republicans).

  8. Tomorrow my paper on Islam should publish on my blog - but I've studied Islam kind off and on for a year or two.

    "Muslims are inherently more peaceful towards the other monotheistic faiths, and tend to only attack when provoked. "

    Although Faux News may tell us otherwise - I concur.

    The Taliban - eh, they're a bunch of illiterate fanatics. Their destruction of the Bumiyan Buddha's was condemned across the Islamic world - they didn't have a fatwa for it (requires 3 scholars).

    I guess the Taliban are kind of what America would be like if O'Reilly, Hannity, and Ann Coulter ran things here....

  9. America was run by people like O'Reilly, Hannity and Coulter, and to quite violently embarrassing ends. The Taliban wasn't even so bad. They didn't organize attacks on other nations resulting in over a million deaths. The tragedy of the Bumiyan Buddha was at least within their borders. America can't say the same for the structures we have destroyed over the past 8 years in Afghanistan and Iraq (and shortly, Pakistan).

    I have a certain amount of respect for the tyrant who oppresses only his people. The tyrant who oppresses those outside his electorate is the worse of the two. It is a shame that only Americans can vote for the President, when those affected the most by the decision are not even citizens. It is an affront to the very idea of democracy.

    Let the Taliban oppress their people. A people will create the government they deserve. At some point, they will rise up and become the heroes they have been waiting for. Nation building is a futile effort.

    As for what conservative pundits have to say about Islam... it's not even worth our time to refute it if you also see through their lies.

  10. So you're saying I shouldn't have deleted my post of videos of people PWNing O'Reilly?


  11. Very nice survey, I might have to borrow this. Will have to put some good thought into it though.

  12. (If that is alright, of course!)


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